The icing on the cake says it all.
"#Stronger than Winston", declares the sweet centrepiece of the party being held to reopen one of Fiji's best-loved island resorts.
It's a hashtag, it's a dessert, but mostly it's an attitude. The Castaway crew is back after a gruelling three-month clean-up and rebuilding project where everyone from housekeeping staff to waiters to management pitched in to make repairs during the resort's forced closure.
In a 13-hour rampage, the cyclone's fury swept sand and water into every room, with flying sand stripping paint from every surface, wind ripping off thatched roofs and damaging walls.
Gathered under a large new roof – the old one was torn off during the storm – the staff choir's soaring voices and traditional dancing in the main restaurant are a treat for Castaway's first handful of guests since February.
"Winston may have been classified as the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in Fiji in recorded history, but the reopening of our beautiful island resort just months after such a severe storm is proof that our Castaway family is much stronger, and more resilient than any storm can be," general manager Steven Andrews tells the crowd.
On the upside, the cyclone damage presented an opportunity to upgrade public areas of the popular resort with rebuilt roofs lined with new decorative tapa art, a new outdoor kitchen servicing the resort's 1808 "feet in the sand" restaurant, plus 14 new bures built from scratch.
The new bures take interiors at the resort to a new chic level without losing the Fijian touch of vaulted ceilings and authentic tropical textures. A deep blue colour palette, double bifold doors and beach-facing beds are big design improvements and will be rolled out across more of the resort accommodation in time.
Executive chef Swiss-born Markus Nufer spent the closure creating new menus for all four of the resort's restaurants, blending Asian, Indian and Fijian influences into his new dishes. A new wood-fire pizza menu in the Sundowner bar has been designed to become a family favourite. The bar also doubles as a check-in space for guests
What hasn't changed – and the reason why this island has a 40 per cent return guest rate – is Castaway's legendary barefoot hospitality from some of the most relaxed, friendly people in the South Pacific. Or nature's abundant beauty everywhere from the pink bougainvillea to the astonishing star-filled skies each night.
With no phones, no TV and Wi-Fi limited to the restaurant, there is ample opportunity to appreciate the unplugged gifts all around us.
Singing, sunshine, disarmingly beautiful blue water, tropical garden massages, hammocks between the trees and flowers behind your ear are the signatures of days on Castaway.
But for guests keen to venture beyond the hammock, adventures by sea range from a speedboat spin around the nearby Mamanucas where dolphin spotting goes hand-in-hand with island hopping.
A Robinson Crusoe-style champagne picnic on the uninhabited Modriki Island falls into the "definitely do" files during your stay. With rugs, giant cushions, a chef-packed lunch and the pristine shore all to yourself, it's hard to imagine a better day trip exists anywhere in the Pacific.
Castaway Island celebrates its 50th birthday in November with a range of special add-ons, including snorkelling, water-skiing, massages and boat rides for $FJD19.66 ($12.50) to mark its year of opening (being 1966). Rooms start at $600 a night plus tax.
GUESTS GIVE BACK
Guests at Outrigger's Fiji hotels are contributing money and manpower to a range of projects as part of a growing trend in community tourism.
The concept of helping while you holiday is gaining popularity among guests at both Castaway Island Resort and Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort on the Coral Coast.
Eco-warriors get the chance to make and plant coral nurseries at both resorts while a poor primary school in the lush Sigatoka Valley has been transformed after about 80 guests a month started signing up two years ago to help build improvements for the children.
The Conua Primary School – where many of the Outrigger staff children are educated – now has a bus shelter, new fences, new paint, a cyclone-proof meeting bure and a computer room with new books and six new computers, thanks to Australian holidaymakers and cash and expertise from Outrigger.
The current project – a new $50,000 kindergarten – will cater for 30 children aged under six, with guests paying $65 each to volunteer at the site.
The reef coral regeneration program at Castaway is on every two weeks with guests helping to make cement biscuits containing fast-growing coral fragments, which are then raised in the underwater nursery.
At the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, guests recently helped to relocate a giant clam to waters safe from poachers. Coral planting is also a regular part of the group's global Ozone conservation initiative.
Angie Kelly was a guest of Castaway Island